by René Lévy – march 2006
René Lévy is research director at the CNRS. He has recently conducted a study on the French practice of granting collective pardons and amnesties, the most significant findings of which are outlined here.
The French habit consisting of periodically « de-flating » the prison population through recurrent collective measures of clemency, be they pardons or amnesties, is a constant source of amazement for people in neighboring countries, who often view it as detrimental to the authority of the final judgment and to the equality of sentenced offenders. Whereas these measures of clemency have received great attention from historians of the Ancien Régime, they have been neglected by sociologists. Moreover, most quantitative investigations of criminal justice view them as a disturbing element in statistics and are more intent on neutral-lizing their effects than on studying the facts themselves.